A 5-2 win over the Purdue Boilermakers earlier this week makes it eight straight victories for the Arizona State women’s tennis team. But perhaps even more important, it gives them a big lift as they prepare for the toughest stretch of the season.
The Sun Devils take on Pac-12 rival Oregon in a home match tomorrow that will kick off the full conference schedule. The Devils will face USC and UCLA, who are tied for first place, and No. 3 Stanford (tied with Arizona) in a span of three weeks as they buckle down to try to complete a season that could be even better than the one they posted last year. And that season was considered one of the best during the 30-year stewardship of head coach Sheila McInerney.
It’s hard to tell how many more years McInerney will devote to the ASU program, but it doesn’t appear she’s slowing down yet. There are only three coaches at ASU that have logged at least 30 years. One has retired and one is about to retire, which will leave McInerney as the only active coach with that kind of tenure.
The first coach to hit that mark was McInerney’s predecessor in the tennis program, Anne Pittman, and the other is the gymnastics head coach, John Spini, who hired on back in 1980 and announced recently that this will be his last season.
Last year’s women’s tennis team put together a 17-6 season (6-4 in conference) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division I Championships before getting beat by No. 4 Georgia. This year’s edition is ranked No. 25 in the country and is 13-3 overall and 1-0 in Pac-12 play after rolling over Washington in the conference opener, beating then-No. 28 Washington, 6-1, on the road.
Since that March 7 contest in Seattle, the Devils have won four non-conference matches rather handily and used Purdue to tune up for the challenges of the conference schedule ahead.
That win was important, but even more, a match against a ranked team really helps at this point in the schedule. “At this time of the year, we’d much rather play tennis than practice,” said McInerney after Tuesday’s win over Purdue, pointing out how it will help the team on down the road, too.
Only one player needed more than two sets to notch a win in that game, with Stephanie Vlad, Desirae Krawczyk, and Ebony Panoho all winning in two sets. Vlad and Krawczyk, both sophomores, are two of four players returning from last year’s squad when Krawczyk was playing in the No. 2 spot and Vlad, a Connections Academy graduate from Scottsdale, was No. 4 in the line-up.
ASU will have four out of the next six games on their own court, but then will have to play both USC and UCLA on the road – and then wrap up the schedule in Tucson against Arizona. It’s a tough way to close out a regular season, but McInerney is taking it in stride.
“Nothing has been easy for us this season,” she points out, “and the matches we have coming up aren’t going to be any easier.”
(Photo: ASU Athletics)